Tuesday, September 24, 2013

From the Oregon Symphony flows what you call music

Tōru Takemitsu
On Saturday evening (September 21) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Oregon Symphony provided two distinct paths for concertgoers to lose themselves in music. One path led listeners into the meditative interior monologue of Tōru Takemitsu’s “From Me Flows What You Call Time.” The other path took the audience into the exterior, story-driven music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s beloved “Scheherazade.” This unusual pairing was highlighted in the BBC Music Magazine as one of the very best concerts to attend this fall in North America. The orchestra, led by music director Carlos Kalmar, did not disappoint, giving an intensely calm interpretation of Takemitsu’s piece and a passionately dynamic version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s.

Completed in 1990, “From Me Flows What You Call Time” was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its music director Seiji Ozawa, and chosen for the Oregon Symphony program in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Portland Japanese Garden, which sponsored the concert. Besides the orchestral ensemble, this piece required a huge percussion battery that involved glockenspiel, vibraphone, steel drums, cymbals, bells, gongs (including water gongs), crotales (small tuned disks), bowls, anklung (tuned bamboo rattles), darabuka (Arabic or Turkish drum), bells, almglocken, tuned log drums, tom-toms, marimbaphone, and five percussion soloists: Sergio Carreno, Niel DePonte, Jonathan Greeney, Luanne Warner Katz, and Michael Roberts. They moved very carefully among the arrangement of instruments and with an understanding of the highly symbolic nature of this work, which was inspired by Tibetan Buddhism. So there was a bit of choreography as Carreno, DePonte, Greeney, Katz, and Roberts slowly entered the stage from different corners of the hall after principal flutist Jessica Sindell beautifully intoned a five-note motive that was passed along to the orchestra. It was visually arresting to watch all of this slowly unfold. The percussion soloists sported Asian-styled jackets, which were similar in color to the ribbons extended above the heads of the audience. The ribbons, representing the five natural phenomena of water (blue), fire (red), earth (yellow), wind (green), and sky (white), evoked the concept of “Wind Horse” which links the elements and the human spirit to well-being or good fortune. The ribbons also were attached to a group of bells that were softly rung a few times later in the piece.

Much of “From Me Flows What You Call Time” seemed to involve a conversation of sorts between the orchestra and the percussion soloists, with the orchestra providing a light tonal foundation and then backing off. The shimmery sounds from the steel drums, the swirling tones from various cymbals, the delicate bells, and feathery gongs accented the quiet, introspective nature of this piece. The pace of the piece slowed down and seemed to lose a bit of momentum at near the end of a series of improvised solos, but perhaps that was the intent of Takemistu, who is quoted to have said, “I would like to achieve a sound as intense as silence.”

After intermission, the orchestra returned to familiar territory and delivered a thrilling performance of “Scheherazade.” Kalmar encouraged a full dynamic range, and his forces responded with stellar playing with silky strings, stirring brass, lush harp, and woodwinds that could set a scene that was smoky and faraway or jumping up and down right in front of your face. Concertmaster Sarah Kwak created sweet and evocative tones in her many solos, making it easy to let your imagination flow. The principal players of the orchestra, including cellist Nancy Ives, oboist Martin Hebert, clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao, bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood, flustist Jessica Sindell, harpist Jennifer Craig, trombonist Aaron LaVere, trumpeter Jeffrey Work, and hornist John Cox, also had many shining moments. The tempo in the last movement was very fast and loud, and it even caused a brief waggle in Cox’s sound. Work’s impeccable double- and triple-tonguing helped to propel the sonic story until it all crashed into sea foam at the end, topped off with the thrilling high notes from Zachariah Galatis’s piccolo. Kwak got the very last word with her serene high notes that vanished into the distance.

No comments: